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Induction, evolution and accountability

Harnad, Stevan (1976) Induction, evolution and accountability. [Book Chapter]

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Abstract

DISCUSSION PAPER: HARNAD: Let me just ask a question which everyone else who has been faithfully attending these sessions is surely burning to ask: If some rules you have described constitute universal constraints on all languages, yet they are not learned, nor are they somehow logically necessary a priori, how did language get that way? CHOMSKY: Well, it seems to me that would be like asking the question how does the heart get that way? I mean we don't learn to have a heart, we don't learn to have arms rather than wings. What is interesting to me is that the question should be asked. It seems to be a natural question, everyone asks it. And we should ask, why people ask it. My feeling is that if, say, the Martian that I was imagining were to look at earthlings and investigate them he would have no reason to doubt that language is as much an organ of the body as the eye or the heart or the liver. It's strictly characteristic of the species, has a highly intricate structure, developed more or less independently of experience in very specific ways, and so on. It has all the general properties of an organ of the body. Why does it seem so strange to us to think in those terms? In other words, why does it seem to us so strange to us to consider human beings in the mental aspects of their life as we consider any object of the natural world? Why is it so natural to insist on a dichotomy in accordance with which we treat the physical development of humans as belonging to the physical world, but not their mental development? My own feeling is, that what we have here is an inversion of a historical tradition that really ultimately has religious and other roots. Traditionally it was regarded as impossible, for all sorts of reasons, to study the human soul by the method of science. Now, what's interesting to me is, precisely within those tendencies in science that tried to be naturalistic, that tried to defend science against religions, barbarism and so on. Precisely in those branches of science the same curious refusal to deal with the facts persisted, so that the question you raise seems to pose an overwhelming paradox to an investigator. The problem seems overwhelming: to explain the growth of this particular mental organ, human language, through the interaction of a genetically determined system with experience, although analogous questions about other organs do not seem to arise with the same force. I think the question arises in the case of language exactly as it does in the case of the eye, the heart or the sexual organs (to pick something that matures long after birth) and so on. There is every reason to suppose that this mental organ, human language, develops in accordance with its genetically determined characteristics, with some minor modifications that give one language or another, depending on experience. But than, one would say the same about any bodily organ as far as I can see.

Item Type:Book Chapter
Keywords:language, evolution, Chomsky, Universal Grammar, learning, induction, innateness, explanation, Big Bang, learnability
Subjects:Biology > Theoretical Biology
Psychology > Cognitive Psychology
Psychology > Evolutionary Psychology
Linguistics > Historical Linguistics
ID Code:863
Deposited By:Harnad, Stevan
Deposited On:15 Jul 2000
Last Modified:11 Mar 2011 08:54

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